SHF Radio: Boy Scout Collectibles Alternatives

August 30, 2013

New Blogs Podcasts with Santeeswapper on BlogTalkRadio

Here is a partial transcript of this episode of Scouting Hot Finds Radio.

A little over a year ago I broadcast an episode of Scouting Hot Finds Radio called “eBay Alternatives”.  This followed a couple of shows I did that focused on selling memorabilia on the Internet .  All of these shows are available in the archive at ScoutingHotFinds.com so if you want to go back and catch up on these discussions please do that.  Little did I know that last year I would be at the start of a journey to nail down exactly what my online strategy was going to become.  Now you would think that someone with a feedback rating on eBay of well over 20,000 would not have an identity crisis when it comes to selling online but I think I was in the middle of one last year.  At the time I wasn’t really searching for a whole different way of thinking for my online business but the more research I did and crunching the numbers and before I knew it in the span of a couple of months that summer I had totally thrown out the baby with the bath water as the saying goes.  I closed down all my online stores, both the eBay one and an off-eBay ProStore that I had maintained for 5 years.  Literally in the span of a few months I totally eviscerated my long-standing selling presence online and started from scratch.

Now a couple of developments in my business kinda set me up for this situation.  One is that during late 2011 to mid 2012 I purchased two very large collections – inventory that literally filled up a garage and I came to a crossroads as to how I was going to organize and sell these items online.  Not long before that I completed a buyout of a long time cosigner that likewise added five figures worth of inventory to my bottom line.  So facing the pleasant dilemma of having lots of Scout stuff that I needed to move it was time to really draw up a game plan.  I think in doing that I came to the conclusion I wasn’t real happy with how I had things set up online.

My eBay store had whittled down to only about 300 items as I was getting away from a consistent schedule of listing.  Likewise the inventory in my ProStore was very stale – some of it having been listed for sale there for a few years without fresh updates.  So was I going to take this new Scouting memorabilia and push it back out the same sales channels that I had been using since 2007?

When I started crunching the numbers I eventually decided that my eBay store as it was set up was just not a winning ticket.  The fee structure and my activity listing meant that I was losing money with a small eBay store so I decided to close it.  Likewise a few months later I pulled the plug on the ProStore and was then left with no dedicated platform to continue selling in the fixed priced format.

So I started to experiment because I love dreaming up ideas.  One website that really caught my eye was Ron Oslin’s store at www.BoyScoutInsignia.com.  He had built just a beautiful website using the same software program that Greg McDaniels from www.boyscoutstore.com was using.  Ron is a bit of a photo freak and his images were just amazing.  The site was clean and I really liked the format.  So in July of 2012 I got to thinking that maybe I needed to go the route of building my own store from scratch and not going with either eBay or ProStore.  I talked to Ron and with a little more research found out there were several software packages you could buy where essentially you paid a one-time license and you would not have any monthly subscription fee hassles.  The beauty of having your own site as Chris Jensen shared with me on an interview he did for the radio show is that once you list an item for sale it doesn’t matter if it sells that month or 12 months from now because you don’t have to pay to keep the listing alive.  My old ProStore costs me $50/month and I am not even going to start talking about eBay fees.

About the same time as the project was starting up to launch my new store I also had an opportunity to rebrand one of my oldest web properties.  Since 2006 www.patchblanket.com was a vbulletin board forum that I had labored on with little success.  With the breakthrough success of the Facebook group Scout Patch Collectors the forum was essentially worthless.  Everything that I had always hoped it would grow to become was happening on the Facebook Group and that was fine by me.  I used a program to scrape and archive all the old content on Patchblanket and moved it to a new website that I built to support the Facebook Group.  When Brad England and I launched the group one thing I made sure to do was snag the url www.scoutpatchcollectors.com.  So today that site features a feed from the Facebook group but it also includes all my archived posts from the retired websites: 2009noac.com, 2010jambo.com and the forum from patchblanket.com.

So essentially the idea became to take the easy to remember url patchblanket.com and use that as a name for my new store.  I considered building out the website for a YouTube Scouting video mash up but the name patchblanket and boy scout videos don’t really go together very well.  So I got to work with a new logo and my web designer helped me pick out some fancy store software so I was on my way.  The goal of finally opening up those boxes in the garage and building a store with as many as 5,000 or 10,000 items live seemed like a doable goal going into the late summer and fall of 2012.

Another  big idea I had was to give the idea of a set price sales list a go.  I had experimented with this concept a year earlier with a very basic list I sent out that had some dupes I was parting with from lodges in my section.  Since then I had published my series of Prices Realized eBooks and I had a much better feel for how to format and publish something that looked more professional.

In late August 2012 I pulled the plug on my ProStore which had been live at www.santeeswapperstore.com for about seven years.  I figured I had the spreadsheet of inventory from the ProStore to work with as a start for the sales catalog.  If I branded the sale as a Clearance Sale with a super mark down then I could use the Hot Finds email to contact customers and move items.  And you know what – at first this actually worked!  In September 2012 I rolled out the $100k clearance sale and took the ProStore inventory and marked it down 35% - 50% off.

My initial catalog was so well received - I banked more than 60 orders – purely off of the same stale inventory that had been in my ProStore for years.  I thought I was really onto something.  A few years back someone shared with me a very clever trick that I decided to copy.  Back in the 1990s when the Heart of Texas Trader, John Conley Williams was sending out his fixed priced sales catalog he found a way to keep his inventory straight while appearing to always have fresh turnover.  What he did was maintain two different inventories.  You might call it an A and a B.  So when he sent out his list maybe ½ dozen to 8 times a year he would rotate between the two distinct inventories of Scouting memorabilia.  That way when you got the next list it always had different stuff.  Meanwhile he would be adding some new stuff to the other list and when you saw it a few months later that “B catalog” had new items plus the inventory that was still unsold.  So by alternating lists he probably was the most successful Scout memorabilia dealer in the 1990s to send out sales list in the days before eBay really caught on.

So how was I going to borrow his idea?  I decided to take that ProStore inventory that came out to 66 pages when printed as a catalog and split it into three lists.  My plan was to do a monthly sales catalog and keep up the same idea of a rotation so that for a three month cycle people would see all different items.  I literally went through the spreadsheet and did like a school yard pick-em A, B, C, A, B, C and so on to split the list right down the middle.

During October 2012 I worked to perfect this list and double check that everything was ready to go.  When the first Wednesday in November came around I sent out the sales catalog in a special edition of the Hot Finds.  This was the “A List” inventory that I had separated out.  Then on the first Wednesday in December I published my next catalog which featured the “B List” inventory.  Here are the opening lines of that December catalog to give you a feel for my sales pitch.

Welcome to the 2nd monthly sales catalog that I’ve published to share with the Boy Scout collecting community.  This sales catalog is a set price list with simple pricing and free shipping to allow me to pass savings onto you by avoiding eBay fees.  With hundreds of OA issues identified using John Pannell’s OAimages.com website I think everyone can find something they can use.  My special bonus collection this month is of Philmont Training Conference Patches.  I have listed the retail and discounted sales price in this list similar to the website clearance catalog from earlier in the fall. Feel free to email me with any questions you have.

So after spending the fall of 2012 working hours and hours on this new selling strategy that was going to bring back the classic set priced sales list with a modern digital format and the power of email marketing – how did I do.  I believe I booked 10 order in November and 15 orders in December.  Doh!

With things getting busy in late December around Christmas I just couldn’t get myself motivated to prepare a January catalog which would have been that “C list” and my idea basically died with the calendar turning the page on 2013.

So for any of you taking notes and thinking about this topic of selling on the Internet let me give you a few takeaways for why reinventing the concept of a fixed priced sales catalog failed in my eyes.

  1. It takes too much time to respond to emails, generate invoices and monitor that payment has been received.  Yes the beauty of a sales list is that you skip giving eBay 15-20% of your final sales price but what you sacrifice is a ton of automation.  Whenever an order came in I had to check to see if the items were still available. Then manually key in the inventory changes, make an invoice, generate and email an invoice.  Then before shipping I had to verify that Payment was received.  All this is something that eBay and other online selling platforms do seamlessly.  Doing it manually wasn’t much fun.
  2. In the days of before eBay I think sellers were conditioned to buy items strictly from seeing the Blue Book designation in the case of OA.  However, eBay and now trading over the Internet on Facebook has trained collectors to have the expectation to see a picture of exactly what they are buying.  For a fixed priced catalog it was going to be a herculean task to somehow include pictures of all available items in the list.

So to get back to the story as the page on the calendar was turning to 2013 I came back to the idea that had sprung up in July of working to build out my own online store.  In January and February and March I worked to recover the inventory from the failed attempt at a catalog and use this as a seed for my new store inventory.  I already had all the titles, prices and most importantly images so it was just a task to use the import feature on the website to get all that loaded and match the images to the items.  Then in March fate would intervene and again postpone the launch of what has supposed to be my long term solution for this conundrum of my online selling strategy.   Within the span of 1 week I once again was making a complete 180 degree pivot and going in a different direction.

On March 19 eBay announced in their Spring seller update that they were totally revamping the fees and especially making it very enticing for sellers to open eBay stores.  I was so intrigued by this information that I crunched numbers for hours and put together a really sharp video posted to Youtube the next day that gave my take on what the new policies meant for sellers on eBay.  You can find that video on Youtube just type in the search box 2013 eBay spring seller update and my video will pop up.  It has over 800 views.  So less than a week later on March 24 I checked the wrong box when uploading items on my store inventory and wiped out weeks of work.  Crap!  Since I had to start over regardless I saw the chance to once again shift strategy and to come back to the idea of an eBay store as a primary selling platform.  I had never abandoned eBay – in fact I was doing quite well running weekly auctions but since the summer of 2012 I had not used it for a fixed priced strategy.  The other thing that pushed me in this direction was I had the website name I wanted – www.patchblanket.com and a new logo that I was really in love with.  So during April I built listings offline and on May 1 when the new policies for the Spring seller update went into affect I launched my new eBay store that is now found at www.patchblanket.com.

As a result of my eBay video on YouTube I got an email from Jody Tucker again asking if I was willing to come over and help him promote and sell on his eBay alternative site at www.listityourselfauctions.com. (LIYA for short) Since I had shot myself in the foot trying to build my own off-eBay store by deleting my inventory (stupid, stupid, stupid) I decided to give it a shot.  Once again I resurrected some of the old ProStore inventory and launched a store on Jody’s website.  Jody was easy to work with and since we were already partnering on my WWII Hot Finds Newsletter we came up with some marketing strategies and gave the site a facelift.  In April as I was quietly building up my inventory I rebranded the old url that I had used for my ProStore and pointed it to the new store on LIYA.  So now if you go to www.santeeswapperstore.com you will find that it drops you right into that LIYA store which has over 1500 items listed.

So do you think I’m done tweaking my online selling strategy?  Of course not!  For now I am settled with a very successful eBay store at www.patchblanket.com and I plan on keeping stocked with around 2000+ items.  Toss in a schedule of 50 or so auctions a week and that will fit right in with the 2,500 free listings that I get from eBay for my anchor store subscription.  On my LIYA store at www.santeeswapperstore.com I’ve got some more items listed and I’m still testing and evaluating the best way to use this platform.  However, I have never given up on my dream to have that truly unique off-eBay store like www.streamwood.net, www.boyscoutinsignia.com or more recently a newcomer www.scoutstuff4sale.com.  So now that I’m winding down from Jamboree I am going to pick back up the playbook and start building out my own selling platform that has eluded me for over a year now.  I don’t think I’ll have anything to announce on that front before the end of the year though. This time slow and steady is going to win the race so I’m going to take my time, unload and sort those boxes in the garage, and finally get that 5,000 – 10,000 item store built.  Someone told me this week that I probably have 50,000 unique items that I can list and while I told her that is probably a little high it all just depends how deep you want to get into the boxes.  Do I have 2,000 unique council strips?  Yes.  Do I have 1000 unique merit badges, camp patches, or council activity patches?  Yes, Yes and Yes.  So give me until the end of the year to work on it and perhaps when the calendar turns to the 2014 I’ll be ready for a big launch.

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